Harriet Cleveland lost her job at a daycare during the height of the recession. Unable to find steady work, Harriet tried to make ends meet by babysitting and renting out rooms in her home. After doing everything she could, including pawning her car, Harriet ended up facing foreclosure and declared bankruptcy. During this time she had been unable to pay years old traffic tickets. In August, while babysitting her infant grandson, the Montgomery police came and arrested Harriet at her home. The Montgomery Municipal Court ordered her to serve 31 days in jail.
Markis Antwuan Watts v. City of Montgomery, et al.
Markis Watts was unable to work for many months after being shot in the face. The incident left him with a bullet lodged in his jaw and $40,000 in medical expenses. Though he eventually found work, he has been unable to pay outstanding traffic tickets and other fines assessed by the Montgomery Municipal Court in Alabama. A municipal judge ordered Watts, the father of a newborn daughter, to serve 54 days in jail.
The city, essentially, operated a modern-day debtors’ prison, imprisoning low-income and working people without inquiring about their ability to pay or providing them with adequate counsel. The SPLC filed a lawsuit challenging Cleveland’s and Watts’ incarceration as a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.
In August of 2014 the SPLC and Equal Justice Under Law reached a settlement agreement with the City of Montgomery that enacted reforms and shut down JCS. Read more.